FACES OF LITERACY Gala offers success stories
“This evening represents what America has always stood for,” said Dr. Nichola Gutgold as she opened the Faces of Literacy at Muhlenberg College program. “A nation built on the strength of immigrants, slaves, seekers, adventurers, hard workers and those willing to do what needs to be done to support their families, get ahead and to realize the American dream. Tonight, we will eat, drink and also take in the remarkable stories of three Literacy Center alumni and we celebrate Allentown as a place that welcomes and supports everyone! Isn’t that a great way to spend an evening?”
Dr. Gutgold is the vice president of The Literacy Center’s board of directors. She opened the Oct. 4 program honoring three of the program’s successful graduates.
“You are the pipeline the economy needs,” said keynote speaker Don Cunningham.
The annual gala recognizes graduates, staff and patrons of The Literacy Center, based on Hamilton Street in Allentown.
Cunningham described The Literacy Center as “a key partner to help Lehigh Valley employers meet their workforce development needs.”
Besides offering English as a second language and GED classes, Cunningham said, “The Literacy Center was ranked first in student academic gains out of 53 programs funded by Pennsylvania.”
Cunningham is one of the most experienced and well-respected leaders in the Lehigh Valley. He was twice elected mayor of Bethlehem and twice elected Lehigh County executive. He has served as the State Secretary of General services and as president of the League of Cities. Prior to being mayor of the Bethlehem, he served as member of the Bethlehem city council. He is currently the CEO and president of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation. He has a B.A. from Shippensburg University and summa cum laude M.A. from Villanova University.
State Representatives Mike Schlossberg and Peter G. Schweyer spoke briefly to the honorees and their guests. Ellen Kern, chief of staff for State Senator Pat Browne presented certificates to the honorees.
In June 2018, 83 students graduated from The Literacy Center, which is the highest number in the organization’s history. Forty-one students graduated by passing their English as a second language classes. Forty-two graduates received their GED. Six students, including Marco Calderon, who is now on the board of directors of The Literacy Center, have become U.S. citizens.
Last year, The Literacy Center had 500 students enrolled, of whom about 60 percent are currently working for about 100 different employers.
The achievements of “three outstanding alumni” were recognized: Jorge Vasquez, Ramona Alonzo and Marco Calderon are all graduates who have gone on to be productive local residents who have established careers in the Lehigh Valley.
Proceeds from the Faces of Literacy event benefit the Literacy Center, which was established in 1977 to, according to information provided by the center, prepare Lehigh County residents “to successfully pursue their goals through English as a second language and through high school equivalency (GED) instruction.” The program also provides supplementary classes and support services.
Among the honored students were Ramona Alonzo, who is originally from the Dominican Republic where she earned B.S. in industrial psychology from the Universidad del Caribe. She is currently working as a nursing assistant at the Lehigh Parkway School.
“I came with a suitcase full of dreams and goals,” said Alonzo. She became an American citizen Sept. 11.
“I must confess it was not easy to leave my family, friends, and co-workers. It was a great change that every day made me feel nostalgic for home.
“I fell in love with the tranquility, safety, schools and the opportunities offered to study and grow as a professional and as a person.”
Alonzo was accompanied by her son and her husband, Frank.
Marco Calderon was also an honoree. Calderon came to the U.S. in 2008 after earning a bachelor’s degree in communication at the Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Mexico. After graduating from The Literacy Center’s program, he decided to pursue his lifelong passion of photography. His is now in business as a photography and video studio owner.
The Literacy Center’s tribute to Calderon says, “Marco has worked tirelessly to build his business while continuing to be a pillar of his community. He serves those in the nonprofit community to this day and views that connection as a grounding force within his life.
Calderon was accompanied by his two children, Luka and Kana, and his wife, Eveily.
Also honored was Jorge Vasquez, who earned his GED in June 2017. His teachers said Vasquez was an excellent student. Once he got his GED, he enrolled at Lehigh Carbon Community College’s Health and Science Program. From there he plans to go to Temple University.
Organizers held a silent auction to raise money for The Literacy Center. Corporate sponsors include: Sapphire Software, Boyle Construction Management, EBC Printing, PPL, Muhlenberg College Wescoe School of Continuing Education, Moonstone Environmental, Keng, Spry, Herman, Freund & Faul LLC, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Marco Photo, MassMutual Eastern Pennsylvania, RCN, Victaulic, Penn State Lehigh Valley, CISSLD.com, Dr. Ramona D Hollie-Major, and an anonymous sponsorship in memory of W. Warren Armstrong.